Category Archives: Bird observations

Tis a curious bird the currawong

Pied Currawongs are clever and curious birds.

This one was photographed this morning at the bird bath. Initially I was puzzled as to why it would be attempting to pierce the ice-crust that had formed overnight (it was ‘feels like’ minus 5C).

Then I noticed the shape on the surface of the ice – a currawong pellet, regurgitated by a previous visitor I would assume.

Pied Currawongs are omnivores, feeding on seeds, fruits, insects and small vertebrates when they can get them. In the town gardens over winter there is a wide variety of suitable tucker. The pellets are ejected a short time after feeding, often within 30 minutes or so and contain the hard remains of the recent meal. Beetle wing-cases and sometimes small bones can be found mixed in with plant material.

You may have noticed and wondered about these objects appearing in the garden at this time of year.

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Pied Currawong @ the bird bath, 5th June 2021

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Pied Currawong pellet

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Cuckoos and spinebills

I was pleasantly surprised last weekend to encounter two Fan-tailed Cuckoos in the Muckleford Nature Conservation Reserve. I had excellent view of the first bird after it flew to a nearby branch, where it was joined  almost immediately by a second individual.

Both birds were silent and moved on after a few minutes perched in the early morning sunshine. I did hear a brief ‘fan-tail’ trill at a distance a few minutes later.

Fan-tailed Cuckoos are regarded, quite rightly, as late winter migrants to the box-ironbark country. The story is a bit more complicated as they can be seen in any month, although it is unclear if some individuals remain all-year round or if these might be birds from further south. Their silence outside the breeding season is why they largely go unnoticed, until their distinctive calls are heard again from August onwards.

The story with Eastern Spinebills has some parallels, but in reverse. Arriving in good numbers in the autumn they disappear to the high country to breed in late winter, although they are apparently resident in nearby locations such as Maldon and Yandoit. The movement patterns of Australian birds are complex and new insights are continually emerging. Seasonal conditions also play a significant role in what happens from year to year, even for species with fairly well-established movement patterns.

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Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Muckleford Nature Conservation Reserve, 29th May 2021

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Eastern Spinebill (male)

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Grey-shrike Thrush, Mia Mia Track

So predictable!

After yesterday’s post on the return of the male Rose Robin I thought it worth checking the other spot where I’ve seen this species over recent years, Rotunda Park in Newstead.

Sure enough, a female Rose Robin was easily located amongst the wattles at the western edge of the Park – exactly the spot where I observed a female on the cusp of spring 2020.

Rose Robins have a particular habit, while perched, of lowering their wings and cocking their tail, and then twitching them simultaneously. The second last image below is a poor depiction of this distinctive behaviour.

What I find truly remarkable is that such a small bird can seemingly return to exactly the same location in successive years.

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Female Rose Robin, Rotunda Park Newstead, 30th May 2021

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A creature of habit

Last winter I was fortunate to encounter a male Rose Robin in the Muckleford Nature Conservation Reserve. The birds was present for a number of weeks in the same spot, a moist gully dominated by Yellow Box, White Box and a dense understorey of Golden Wattle.

I was not at all surprised, on a visit yesterday, to again observe a male Rose Robin!

While I have no evidence to prove my case you would have to think it is the same individual. My 2020 sighting was in mid-August, although the bird had been observed there some weeks earlier. I suspect this one will be resident for the winter.

Rose Robins breed further south, migrating in small numbers to the box-ironbark over the cooler months. Like the other Petroica robins, Rose Robins are insectivores but tend to be more aerial in their foraging behaviour.

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Male Rose Robin, Muckleford State Forest, 29th May 2021

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Here we go again …

To some folks, currawongs are a bird of evil intent … not for me.

They are curious, alert and adaptable birds that have an ill-deserved reputation on account of some aspects of how they ‘make a living’ … preying on small native songbirds for example.

Every autumn, flocks of Pied Currawongs arrive in Newstead, on migration from higher altitudes along the Great Dividing Range. Each year the numbers seem to increase and in fact this year I was even hearing the occasional bird over summer. Their beautiful calls are very different to that of our resident and mainly solitary Grey Currawong.

Home gardens are a favourite for the species, with winter fruiting shrubs such as this privet a favourite food source. Yesterday afternoon more than a dozen Pied Currawongs were gathered at any one time to feast on the berries. No doubt they are responsible fo spreading the seeds of this exotic but locally this doesn’t seem to be causing a problem.

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Pied Currawong, Newstead, 27th May 2021

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Live @ the lake

I’m surprised and a little dismayed about how much the water levels in Cairn Curran have fallen over autumn. Here’s hoping for a winter deluge to replenish this important wetland.

As you can see from the graph below this is the typical pattern that results from large volumes of downstream water transfer over summer and autumn, much of this destined for orchards along the Murray River. The storage is currently at about 38% of capacity.

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Waterbirds are scarce at present, although a visit is always rewarded with some great sights.

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Whistling Kite, Cairn Curran Reservoir, 20th May 2021

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Australian Pelican

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Australasian Darter

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Black Kite

I wonder …

… how often, if ever, a Peaceful Dove falls victim to a Yellow-footed Antechinus?

Last week in the Rise and Shine I was intrigued to see a flock of six foraging doves within a few metres of an actively hunting antechinus.

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Peaceful Dove, Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, 9th May 2021

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Yellow-footed Antechinus

We live in interesting times

In recent days I’ve started hearing the distinctive calls of Eastern Spinebills in the home garden. The onset of ‘wintry’ conditions in late April/May is the stimulus for this wonderful migratory honeyeater to depart from the ranges to pay us a visit in the foothills.

The bird pictured below was visiting the birdbath and managed to stay still momentarily before descending to drink.

Later in the day I came across more spinebills, this time amongst the River Red Gums and Blackberry at the Loddon River Reserve. Eastern Yellow Robins arrived to compete in the ‘fashion stakes’ while in the canopy overhead Olive-backed Orioles were feeding and calling. … might they remain over winter I wonder?

The calls of a Noisy Friarbird on the other side of the river were a nice conclusion to my visit – this species visits in small numbers at different times of year, presumably on passage to more favoured locations.

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Eastern Spinebill in the home garden, 9th May 2021

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Eastern Spinebill @ the Loddon Reserve

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Eastern Yellow Robin

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Olive-backed Oriole

Early mover …

The exception always proves the rule.

It’s notable to see a Golden Wattle flowering in early May … they typically start in the second week of July around Newstead.

Spreading Wattle has been flowering since February but is at its best over autumn.

The yellow hues of our honeyeaters are a nice complement to the golden spray of the wattles.

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Golden Wattle in flower, South German Track, 2nd May 2021

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Spreading Wattle

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Fuscous Honeyeater

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Yellow-faced Honeyeater

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White-naped Honeyeater

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Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

Kites at the swamp

I was fortunate last Friday to spend the day at Long Swamp on the Moolort Plains with folks from the Dja Dja Wurrung Aboriginal Clans Corporation. I was one of a number of observers invited to join an Aboriginal Waterways Assessment for the Tullaroop catchment. One of many highlights was a pair of Black-shouldered Kites ‘greeting’ us when we arrived at the swamp under blue skies and warm late autumn sunshine.

The presence of this species, absent from large areas of the plains over the past year or two, is a sign of high quality raptor habitat. Long Swamp is a special place, now in the safe hands of Trust for Nature, and where it is possible to reimagine this country.

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River Red Gum @ Long Swamp, Moolort Plains, 30th April 2021

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Black-shouldered Kite

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Eastern Grey Kangaroo

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Wisdom of the ancients